What Darwin Núñez’s Signing Means For The Evolution Of Klopp’s Liverpool

When I woke up this morning, I read news of Benfica’s decision to confirm that Darwin Núñez will be joining Liverpool Football Club. Though the Reds have yet to announce it themselves, it does seem as though it is only a matter of time and that when you’re reading this you’ll already have seen him leaning up against something at the AXA Training Centre, wearing his new club’s jersey. Even if the purchase doesn’t go through for some reason, the move does seem to represent a shift in the thinking of all concerned. The initial fee is believed to be £64.2 million, which would make him the most expensive forward that we’ve ever bought, with bonuses and so on likely to take the eventual price to €100 million, or around £85.7 million. That would see him become the club’s most expensive player ever, eclipsing the £75 million that we paid Southampton for Virgil van Dijk. Of course, in retrospect we know that the Dutchman is worth double that, but will Núñez prove to be?

Regardless, it shows a clear change in the way in which Liverpool have decided to approach both transfers and the way that the club players under Jürgen Klopp. Though Fenway Sports Group have approved big transfers in the past, such as with Andy Carroll, that method of splurging money has been reigned in in recent years. In truth, it hasn’t changed all that much now; the club will be able to balance the books thanks to outgoing player sales. Yet there’s no question that spending such a large sum of money on an individual represents a change in tack. The powers that be are willing to spend the money without having already sold the likes of Sadio Mané and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whereas in the past the sales needed to happen first. It is representative of the Reds being a super club, which many seem to have been reluctant to admit in the past. Liverpool are one of the biggest clubs on the planet, doing things the right way when it comes to their finances.

A Traditional Number Nine?

There is some debate on what Darwin Núñez will be coming to do in this Liverpool team. It has been pointed out by many that he likes to play central but drift out into what is sometimes referred to as the ‘Thierry Henry corridor’. With that in mind, it is difficult to suggest that he will definitely be a traditional number nine as Carroll once was. That being said, there is no doubt that he’ll be far more of a threat in front of goal than we’ve come to expect from Roberto Firmino. No football song is ever 100% accurate, but the idea that ‘Bobby’ will score as long as you ‘give the ball’ to him has always seemed a little silly. That wasn’t what the Brazilian was in the team to do and I’ve always loved his contribution to Jürgen Klopp’s teams. The reality is, though, that we need to evolve and become a side that can constantly threaten the opposition from every angle. The arrival of Núñez is likely to allow us to do that, asking the team we’re playing questions from all over the pitch.

Darwin Núñez will offer us something entirely different to what we’ve had in the past. Divock Origi could be a target man, but his relaxed nature meant that he was never part of the relentless pressing machine that Klopp has created. He was always a man of moments rather than matches. Firmino has been a player that kept running and pressing whenever he was on the pitch, but he hasn’t been enough of a consistent goalscorer to mean that he can be depended upon. There is a hope that Núñez will provide the best of both worlds, being constantly involved in games but also putting the ball into the back of the net on a regular basis. Certainly his 26 goals in 24 La Liga appearances last term suggest that he knows where the back of the net is, whilst goals against Barcelona and Liverpool show that he isn’t over-awed by an occasion. His signing isn’t just a change in financial decisions but also in the way that the Reds are going to play moving forward.

What It Means For Everyone Else

The interesting thing about Núñez’s signing is what it means for everyone else that plays for Liverpool. It is likely that the Uruguayan player will be able to combine well with Mo Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson and Luis Díaz, thriving on balls into the box that will come from those wide players. What I’m not sure about is what it represents for players that don’t typically work in that way. How does Diogo Jota work with him, for example? My immediate guess is that Jota becomes more of a back-up to Núñez, given that the Uruguayan’s arrival is likely to signify a tweak to formation from Jürgen Klopp. We know that the manager doesn’t love changing things too dramatically, so I can’t envision a world in which we play with an out-and-out striker one week and then the style of inter-changeable football that we’ve come to experience in more recent years. With that in mind, I do wonder whether it will be one of Jota or Núñez playing most of the time.

For the midfield and central defenders, not much will change. Indeed, the only big alteration that I can see coming is that we begin to be able to put more crosses into the box with someone that can actually get on the end of them. I became so frustrated last season when we were playing deep-lying teams and continued to put aimless cross after aimless cross into the box, which is bread and butter for grok centre-backs. The big question is just how much Jürgen Klopp will alter his playing style to accommodate Núñez, rather than asking Núñez to change how he plays in order to fit in with the Reds. It is clear that we need to do something different to break down teams that want to put eleven men behind the ball and that that is going to be more common moving forwards, but I’m not sure that the German will want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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